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The House of the Seven Gables

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapters 19–21

Chapters 17–18

Important Quotations Explained

Summary — Chapter 19: Alice’s Posies

Pyncheon Street, which runs in front of the house of the seven gables, is beautiful and abounds with vegetables growing in the neighbors’ gardens and the leaves of the great Pyncheon elm whispering in the wind. Alice’s Posies, the flowers that grow in the dust between two gables, have bloomed. Uncle Venner passes by, but Holgrave, from his window, tells him no one is home. A customer bangs angrily on the door of Hepzibah’s store, but a neighbor says the brother and sister have left. Little Ned Higgins finds the store closed when he tries to buy a gingerbread man, and the workmen guffaw that the business has already gone under. A butcher who knocks grumbles about being ignored. The Judge’s horse still stands where the Judge left it, and some villagers begin to suspect bloody deeds. The organ-grinder returns and plays in front of the window, but a man tells him the city marshal is coming to investigate and warns him to be gone. The novel remarks that this is just as well: it would be a terrifying sight if Judge Pyncheon were to answer the door, his shirt caked in blood. Phoebe returns, as good and bright as ever. Ned Higgins, from a distance, shouts and warns that there is something evil inside the house, and although Phoebe assumes he has been scared by Hepzibah’s scowl, she enters with some apprehension. The door opens a crack and slams shut once she has entered.

Summary — Chapter 20: The Flower of Eden

Phoebe is pulled into the house by a strange, warm hand, and when she steps into the light she realizes it is Holgrave. Holgrave has an attitude of genuine warmth, as if something wonderful has happened, but he refuses to let Phoebe look in the parlor. He shows her his old daguerreotype of Judge Pyncheon and then a new one he has just made of the Judge lying dead. Holgrave tells Phoebe that he has not told the police or called witnesses because he knows that to do so would implicate the absent Clifford and Hepzibah, and he hopes that the two return soon. Holgrave mentions that it would have been better had Hepzibah and Clifford immediately made the Judge’s death public, since the circumstances so strongly resemble the death of Clifford’s uncle Jaffrey Pyncheon, for which Clifford was blamed. Holgrave adds that Clifford was blamed largely due to the efforts of the Judge. Phoebe is shocked and wants to immediately inform the village of what has happened, but Holgrave is possessed by a strange joy, and finally tells Phoebe he loves her. Phoebe is doubtful that she can make a restless spirit like Holgrave happy, but he convinces her that he is willing to give all of this up for her. Phoebe protests this vow, but she eventually caves in and tells Holgrave she loves him as well. At that moment, Clifford and Hepzibah return to the house of the seven gables. When they see the young people, Hepzibah is so glad she is finally able to set down her burden of grief that she bursts into tears.

Summary — Chapter 21: The Departure

The death of Judge Pyncheon creates only a mild sensation around town, but it does prompt rumors about the man’s ugly past. The death of old Jaffrey Pyncheon thirty or forty years before was dismissed by doctors as an accident, but circumstances made it seem suspicious, and the suspicion fell on Clifford. However, it turns out that, in his youth, the Judge was a wild and hot-tempered man, and it is implied that one night, as he rummaged through his uncle’s papers, the younger Jaffrey Pyncheon was surprised by the older Jaffrey Pyncheon, who died instantly from shock. The actual cause of his death was apoplexy, the bloody brain hemorrhage that killed Colonel Pyncheon, but rather than being dismayed by the sight, young Jaffrey continued rifling through his uncle’s drawers and destroyed a will that left the property to Clifford. Aware that his uncle’s death might arouse suspicion, young Jaffrey -Pyncheon arranged the evidence to point toward Clifford, and though he may not have intended for his cousin to be accused of murder, young Jaffrey kept quiet when Clifford was put on trial. Despite the cruelty of this behavior, the Judge managed to convince himself he was blameless and tucked the whole incident away as a -youthful indiscretion.

The Judge would be saddened could he know the circumstances that followed his death. Unbeknownst to him, his son has died of cholera in Europe, and his inheritance now goes to Clifford, who decides to move to the Judge’s lavish estate with Hepzibah, Phoebe, and, the novel sarcastically notes, that sworn enemy of wealth, Holgrave. Phoebe teases Holgrave when he remarks with regret that the new house is built of impermanent wood rather than permanent stone, and he acknowledges with a melancholy smile that he is rapidly becoming a conservative. He finds his new views “especially unpardonable in this dwelling of so much hereditary misfortune,” standing beneath the stern gaze of the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon, who “rendered himself [for] so long the Evil Destiny of his race.” Clifford remarks that the portrait has always made him think of great wealth, and Holgrave responds by pushing a hidden spring that knocks the portrait to the floor, revealing an ancient parchment entitling the Pyncheons to the giant tract of land in Maine. Hepzibah remarks that Clifford must have found the parchment and, dreamer that he was, told stories about it. The more literal-minded Judge must have confused the parchment with the missing records of the older Jaffrey Pyncheon, and it was this that he was seeking when he came to confront Clifford. Holgrave adds that he knows about the spring because he is a Maule, and that the parchment was hidden by the older Matthew Maule’s son when he built the house.

Uncle Venner jokes that now the claim is not worth a single share in his farm, but Phoebe protests that Uncle Venner need no longer go to his farm, as there is an empty cottage on their property that would be perfect for him. Everyone agrees that Uncle Venner’s optimistic philosophy would be welcome, and he marvels at this, as he was once considered a simpleton. Uncle Venner proposes to join them in a few days, and as the rest of the company get into their carriage, Hepzibah gives money to little Ned Higgins, her first and most loyal customer. The two workmen comment that the world works in mysterious ways, and as Uncle Venner walks past the house of the seven gables, he thinks he hears the strains of Alice Pyncheon’s harpsichord.

Analysis — Chapters 19–21

Chapter 19 explicitly sets the stage for the novel’s conclusion by reintroducing minor characters and obscuring the primary characters. First of all, the sudden appearance of characters like the workmen and the gingerbread-guzzling Ned Higgins seems almost like a curtain call, the story’s cast taking a final bow before the main characters bring the novel to its conclusion. Second, this interesting narrative technique pulls the novel out of the claustrophobic setting of the house and puts it back into the context of the village, mirroring the transition that the house’s occupants themselves will make. Despite the commotion surrounding it, the house seems far less forbidding from the outside than it does from within, and when Holgrave pops his head out the window to answer Uncle Venner’s questions, the image is so quaint and neighborly that it almost makes us forget the terrible sight that lurks inside. With such a bustling world outside, the house itself seems almost insignificant. The whole chapter is written as a breath of fresh air; that we receive it as such presages the relief that awaits the house’s inhabitants.

Throughout the novel, the village has been as guilty of myopia as the inhabitants of the house; the last chapters serve as an across-the-board rejection of popular opinion, the most pertinent example being the way in which the Judge’s reputation comes tumbling down so rapidly. Before his death, the Judge’s only guilt seemed to be his unjust treatment of his cousin, and even that was seen exclusively through Hepzibah’s eyes. With his death from apoplexy, however, the floodgates are suddenly opened. Now, not only does his attempt to extort property from Clifford become apparent, but the rumors that he is a thief, and responsible for the older Jaffrey’s death, snowball. The speed with which these truths is revealed is remarkable, but it also leaves room for doubt, and the fact that the novel prefers to call this gossip rather than absolute truth allows Hawthorne to both smear his villain and make us marvel at how quickly, and maybe even unfairly, popular opinion can make or break reputations. The character of Uncle Venner substantiates this point, as he is the novel’s wisest personality but confesses that he was once thought to be rather simple.

On the surface, the union of Phoebe and Holgrave seems like the quintessential fairy-tale romance, and the marriage between the two families ties up many of the novel’s loose ends. Holgrave’s reform is phrased with such regret, however, that it is hard to accept this interpretation. His love certainly seems genuine, but it comes at a high price, and in Chapter 20 Phoebe herself protests Holgrave’s promise to settle down. Of Clifford’s little band, Holgrave is the only one whom the novel scorns for moving to the Judge’s estate, a telling moment of sarcasm on the author’s part. Phoebe’s joking with Holgrave about his wishing for a stone house seems good-natured, but his reply is specifically and unmistakably characterized as “half-melancholy,” a word which seems to point to reluctance on Holgrave’s part. In fact, Holgrave, a onetime free spirit, seems to be held prisoner by a sense of the inevitable, and his entire proposal to Phoebe is tainted as a result. While Holgrave loves Phoebe, his later lack of enthusiasm makes his decision to marry her seem more like a gesture of resignation than of passion. Consequently, it is hard for us to enjoy Clifford and Hepzibah’s good fortune. It is difficult to celebrate their release from captivity when another character seems to be headed toward similar confinement.

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